Portrait of a productive team

Like many organizations, Sterling holds internal events focused on mission alignment and professional development. We try to set aside at least one full workday twice a year devoted to celebrating milestones and exploring company goals, communications industry best practices, and new ways to implement creative services for our clients.

An unseasonably blustery day in May marked the occasion for one such gathering — our 2019 Spring Agency Summit.

Fueled on a certain account director’s famous focaccia and local grub from EAT Club, our busy day included a briefing on the tech news business with venerable VentureBeat journalist Dean Takahashi, a photography and digital media workshop, mindfulness exercises, a writing and search engine optimization (SEO) challenge, and a local community service presentation from Friends for Youth.

And amidst all that action, we revealed our true colors to one another.

Who do you work with?

True Colors is a refined Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) designed to assess individual temperament. In very broad strokes, Green personality types are independent thinkers drawn to analysis, Gold personalities are pragmatic planners who relish structure, Orange personality types are adventurous and action oriented, and Blue personalities are intuitive and relationship driven. 

Obviously, every individual’s personality type is a blend of all four colors, but the profiles are designed to help people identify natural preferences and explore how those tendencies impact team dynamics. 

Due to our aggressive schedule, organizational consultant Jocelyn Kung of The Kung Group was enlisted to guide a True Colors workshop for the Sterling team. Having completed necessary surveys prior to the Summit, we spent the morning under her expert direction reviewing our resultant color profile scores with each other.

True Colors Workshop Sterling PR
Jocelyn Kung leads a True Colors workshop at Sterling Communications 2019 Spring Agency Summit.

Individual “primary” color identification generally came as no surprise to anyone — and revealing scores generated plenty of laughter and playful ribbing. Gold’s were roasted for rigidity, Blues for hypersensitivity, Greens for detachment, and Oranges for shiny object syndrome.

More importantly, we spent a good deal of time discussing why common behaviors tend to incite divergent responses from different color profile personalities. Something that consistently infuriates a Gold goes completely unnoticed by an Orange, for example. They may be living in the same reality, but their experience of it will be vastly different — and that impacts team function.

Reflected in our color scores are the things we tend to value, our organizational styles, notions of respect, methods of interpreting criticism, modes of communicating, perspectives on collaborative dynamics, and so much more.

Awareness of such differences mitigates friction and encourages gratitude. One telling exercise drawn from this knowledge involves envisioning a world devoid of personality traits expressed in the four colors.

True Colors at Sterling
Appreciating our differences.

Jocelyn was careful to warn us not to stereotype based on True Colors, but even superficial understanding about how work and worldview are shaded by temperament is instructive.

Examining both your strengths and weaknesses through the prism of someone else’s eyes can be uncomfortable. But ultimately, it’s an enriching experience. When that perspective is supplied by people you work with every day, it creates pathways for more productive teamwork.

And undertaking the effort to better know who you work with and how you can best accomplish your goals together is always time well spent.

What to say and how to say it: 6 tips for company spokespeople

Just be yourself, right? 

That’s the perfunctory advice we always give to friends preparing for an interview or giving a big presentation. 

But when you’re charged with speaking to journalists, investors, conferencegoers, and/or analysts on behalf of your company, “being yourself” isn’t so simple. 

As a spokesperson, you must anticipate the needs of an audience and embody the spirit of your organization at the same time — and serve them both.

Being a spokesperson

When you act as a spokesperson, you become your company personified. It doesn’t matter if you’re being interviewed on national television, conducting a local press conference, or posting to Twitter, the spokesperson is the public reflection of the entire staff and everything a company aims to accomplish. 

But no pressure. Just be yourself, right?

Microphones Sterling Communications

Managing such an enormous responsibility and performing its duties successfully is the purpose of media training, wherein spokespeople undergo a kind of exposure therapy to master various aspects of professional representation. 

Practical practice

At Sterling, we provide extensive and personalized media training “therapy” as part of our public relations services. But there are general tactical tips on how to speak professionally that you can practice on your own:

  1. The medium is you. Your delivery can either enhance or hamper the effectiveness of your messages. Make sure that the attitude you present (cheerful, serious, etc.) suits the personality of your organization.
  2. Pump up the volume. In spokesperson mode, most speakers talk about 10–15% louder than normal — and the practice is actually helpful for those listening. You can use diaphragmatic breathing to make your voice fuller and more resonant.
  3. Limit verbal fillers. Try recording yourself conducting a normal phone call or conversation with a friend. Review to check whether you deploy excessive verbal fillers (e.g., well, umm, uhhh, like, y’know).
  4. Modulate your tone. If your speech is monotone or clipped, your audience is less likely to listen — play with your pitch.
  5. Cadence can be powerful. On average, people speak 150 words per minute. Purposely vary your pace, it helps spark interest and encourages engagement.
  6. Every so often, use silence to punctuate a big point. Practice speaking in front of a mirror and pausing strategically to make yourself more comfortable with using silence for emphasis.

Be yourself

The aim of all this practice is simply to communicate more comfortably and effectively. No one wants to listen to what an automaton has to say, so natural enthusiasm, hand gestures, and sincerity are all great and it really is fine to be yourself.

What you say and how you say it already serves as a reflection of any group with which you are associated. This is a natural part of “being yourself” in life, so polishing your communication techniques as a spokesperson for your company is just a healthy exercise in self-improvement.

Canine culture coup

At Sterling, where we revel in an uncommon devotion to tackling tough challenges and breaking down barriers, a flourishing company culture is vital to our work. In the search for a Chief People Officer, we needed a leader who not only understood our purpose, but could elevate our true passion for communication, storytelling, and translating ideas into world-changing brands.

We are thrilled to announce that we have expanded our incredible team to include not one, not two, but THREE new Chief People Officers. Buster, Kaya, and Pachi bring a combined 18 years of experience in nurturing, enabling, and empowering individuals to achieve their highest potential. Most importantly, each new hire aligns closely with the core values that are the heartbeat of our company’s identity: teamwork, helpfulness, curiosity, accountability, flexibility, passion, and fun.

With these exciting additions, our executive team is nearly 50% canine! The results have been unfathomable — our company culture is thriving and our team is more engaged than ever before. Without ever uttering a word, Buster, Kaya, and Pachi consistently deliver three simple, yet indispensable lessons:


1. Your energy is contagious

Buster at Sterling Communications
Buster

You may understand we are all social creatures, but are you putting it into action? As Buster, half Chihuahua, half Pekingese, sprints from desk to desk, our stern, focused faces melt away. He translates his positive energy into festive fun. Ask yourself: What influence are you having on those around you? Whether you work at a boutique PR agency or a huge corporation, every single team member makes an impact on the collective workplace culture.

Simply put — your presence influences the people around you, of that you have no choice. But each day we decide how we are showing up. And how you contribute to your community is just as important as what you contribute. What Buster does effortlessly, we humans must do intentionally.

Own your presence and shape your impact.


2. Remember to paws pause

Kaya at Sterling
Kaya

How can you fuel creative energy in others if your own well is running dry? It’s easy to recognize the value of taking a break, but it only becomes a precious life skill when you put it into practice regularly. German Shepard Kaya practices the art of rejuvenation with expertise. She leads by example — her leisurely socializing, afternoon naps, and delight in frolicking among the wildflowers remind the rest of us to revitalize ourselves with strolls outside, mid-day stretches, and lunchtime potlucks.

Much of your intellectual capacity remains untapped if you are always working on auto-pilot. A five-minute break in your routine can refocus a chaotic day, enhance an idea, and improve your state of mind. Make time to rejuvenate and the work will get done with less resistance.

Replenish yourself and thrive.


3: Communicate with radical transparency

Pachi at Sterling Communications
Pachi

Pachi, like most pugs, excels at making himself heard. He sets an unparalleled standard for honest communication in the office, revealing his mood and feelings openly and clearly.

It’s a bit more difficult for humans to practice the art of communication with such purity.

Pachi reminds us that verbal clarity, skilled listening, and acute awareness of nonverbal messages are essential in connecting with others.

As demonstrated in the nuances of his canine vocabulary — whines, growls, barks, and yips — we can improve our communication with others by listening to their tone of voice, tuning into their body language, and offering our undivided attention to their transmission of words and emotions.

Communication is an art worthy of mastery.


Three superlative lessons for humans imparted by three canine authorities, who could ask for better work advice! If you know of any canines interested in board positions, please send them our way. Oh, and Happy April Fools’ Day from all of us at Sterling Communications!

Shining in the spotlight: 12 tips for successful on-camera interviews

On-camera interviews can be nerve-racking for even the most seasoned spokesperson. In addition to speaking clearly and staying on message, interviewees must also be mindful of nonverbal communication, appearance, and posture. 

A long time ago, in a country far, far away, I worked as a TV presenter. I made a lot of mistakes. Here are a few tips I have picked up since then for polished presentation on-screen. Follow this advice to appear confident, relaxed, and comfortable in front of the camera.

Sterling client on-camera TV interview

A Sterling client is interviewed on camera for a local affiliate.

Preparation:

1. Practice — Practice in your bathroom mirror with a stopwatch. This sort of preparation will enable you to exude confidence and eloquence during the actual interview and prevents the dreaded  “ums.” Tilda Swinton’s Oscar-winning performance in the movie Michael Clayton demonstrates what this looks like in action.  

2. Dress for Success — Wear solid colors, with an emphasis on blue (avoid green unless you want to become meme fodder). And although nautical stripes may be on trend, they don’t always play well on TV. Patterns and high-contrast combinations produce strange visual effects for viewers.

3. Hydrate — Drinking water increases brain activity and enhances mood. Drink plenty of water throughout the day leading up to your interview so you’re not parched on camera. During the interview, have water at the ready to combat dry mouth, but don’t reach for it while talking…it looks weird. Sip only when the focus is on the interviewer (or avoid drinking altogether while cameras are rolling so that it doesn’t distract from your words).

4. Groom — Being on camera can be uncomfortable both figuratively and literally (studio lights are very hot). To ward off flop sweat, wear comfortable clothing and remember to breathe. Minimize unwanted shine and blemishes with a little translucent powder on the forehead and nose. While major studios will supply makeup stock, most executives with high media visibility carry their own. It also helps you avoid looking like Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential debate. But go easy on the lips: Learn from Congressman Joe Kennedy’s appearance for a State of the Union rebuttal and avoid shiny lip moisturizer.

5. Get a Healthy Glow — If possible, taking a brisk walk shortly before going on camera will bring a healthy flush of blood flow to your face.

Engaging:

6. Remove Distractions — Be completely “present” by banishing anything that might divert your attention. Set your phone to airplane mode, remove coins from your pockets, and ditch the pen and paper.

7. Check Your Posture — When sitting during an interview, lean forward around 20 degrees when you talk to open up your diaphragm, increase your air supply, and signal interest in the discussion. If you’re wearing a jacket, take a tip from Broadcast News and sit on it so that the shoulders don’t hunch up. Don’t lean back in your chair, and if possible, avoid chairs that swivel and rock.

8. Plan to Smile — Nervousness leads to looking stiff. To keep your look natural, keep your lips in a slight smile. It will show in your eyes, too, giving you an attentive expression. 

During the interview:

9. Communicate with Your Eyes — When face-to-face with an interviewer, focus on the person asking the questions, not on the camera. Anxiety induces excessive blinking, so be mindful to slow things down. Lastly, if pausing to think, look down — not up. You don’t want viewers to think you’re rolling your eyes. 

10. Embrace Your Message — Key messages are your best friend. Acknowledge any questions you’re asked, but always bridge back to your key messages during the interview. Rephrase long questions before answering. Also, reiterate your messages if you’re asked to provide a sound check or give a closing thought/summary.

11. Think in Soundbites — Journalists tell stories for a living. You can help them do their job by offering short examples and anecdotes. Clever soundbites can frame important ideas you want to communicate. If you have a good soundbite to offer, try to include the company name in a dependent clause.

12. Remain Calm — There’s no way to anticipate everything that may happen — an interview is a conversation, so try to relax and roll with it.

The 3 rules of Wikipedia biographies

Wikipedia is a free, crowd-sourced encyclopedia that holds its users accountable for its contents. The site is all about volunteering knowledge and, theoretically, anyone in the world can post information about anything. But there are guard rails. The Wikipedia community has several requirements and unofficial guidelines that all updates and new entries must meet.

wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Autobiographies are a Non-Starter
Having a personal Wikipedia page is awesome: It’s a sign of clout, it ranks well in search engines, and it tells the world you did something worth knowing about. So why doesn’t everyone have a Wikipedia profile page? Because Wikipedia is not Facebook.

Wikipedia exists to note the notable, vetted by interested people who serve as proof that someone cares about the contents of an entry. Which leads us to the first rule for getting a Wikipedia biography about you published:

1. Have someone else post it because autobiographies are rejected on Wikipedia.

This is logical. Wikipedia is a site for useful information, not self-promotion. Someone else has to care about the content of the entry — go you! But the truth is that, even if you don’t have a single friend in the world, you could create an account under a fake name and try to post an entry on yourself (we didn’t tell you that). Even if you result to skullduggery, it still has to be a biography, not an autobiography — and it will be vetted by a volunteer army. Any chance of success comes down to language (watch your pronouns!) and verifiability, two points we’ll address next.

Get Neutral
Most of the time, it’s insulting to be called a fence sitter. On Wikipedia, however, maintaining a neutral position is imperative to getting published. Words like terrible or great don’t fly — your entry should read like hard news, not an Op/Ed. Which leads to the second Wikipedia rule, one we affectionately call the law of Sgt. Joe Friday:

2. Stick to the facts, not your opinion on them.

Following this language rule will ensure your submission’s tone of voice is consistent with the Wikipedia community’s expectations. It will also conveniently make it much easier to comply with the third rule for having your own Wikipedia entry…

Show the Receipts
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, 12 references are still required for it to get its own Wikipedia entry. Verifiability is the lifeblood of Wikipedia entries, and it is earned by linking to reputable external sources. With the spirit of a scientific research paper but the flexibility of a creative blog post, sources on Wikipedia can include articles, company websites, books, TV shows, podcasts, YouTube videos, other Wikipedia entries…you name it. But prestige counts for a lot:

3. Reference credible, well-known news publications as much as possible.

This, of course, implies that you already have an online news presence. We’re here to help if you need assistance with that.

Will blockchain save the world?

Life at our small but mighty creative agency often feels like an episode of my favorite Silicon Valley-based TV series. A typical week includes cruising up the San Francisco peninsula to meet with a client, often an emerging tech startup working tirelessly to make our world a better place.

We use our collective creative powers to help these growing companies find their voice and brand identity — to stand up, stand out, and stand for something. Friends and family always ask us: “What is brewing in that Silicon Valley bubble? What is the next technology that will actually transform society and our daily lives?”

Right now, the answer is blockchain.

Exploring the hubbub, hype, and hope of the blockchain revolution
“Crypto” no longer refers solely to cryptocurrencies, but to all services and platforms with blockchain-like reliance on cryptographic hash functions and peer-to-peer networking. The beauty of blockchain lies in decentralization. Computing via cryptography and consensus offers a fairly new and potentially better way to conduct, track, and verify digital transactions of all kinds without the need for third-party clearinghouses or monolithic data hubs.

Blockchain public relations

Sterling Client Airfox at the CODE_n conference, where it took home the $17,000 grand prize for winning Best Startup and Best Business Model awards. (Photo Credit: Code_n.)

Blockchain is all the rage these days, but it’s not a panacea for every computational complication. The startup scene supporting this emerging technology can be tricky to navigate. The Sterling creative team has already established deep experience in this realm, working with organizations leveraging blockchain concepts to solve the biggest issues in healthcare, banking, and enterprise logistics. We are also currently working with the first venture-backed startup to successfully complete an initial coin offering (ICO) in the United States. While academics and engineers will continue to debate the impact blockchain will have on our daily lives, educating the world about its potential and pitfalls is key. Sterling is committed to helping innovative startups and forward-thinking enterprises successfully tell their compelling stories.

Have you caught blockchain fever yet? Here’s some essential reading that Sterling has placed for our clients:

Contact us to learn more.

blockchain public relations

The case for content marketing: Bridging the gap between earned and owned media

People associate public relations (PR) with the pursuit of “earned” media coverage. Whether it’s writing and distributing press releases, pitching stories to reporters and editors, or submitting clients for prestigious awards or speaking opportunities — you are effectively looking to earn media attention. The goal is to inspire credible third parties and influencers to tell your tale and share your message (or a version of it, anyway). Traditional earned media is still the backbone of PR, but in our highly digitized world, a well-rounded communications strategy should also address “owned” media — specifically, content marketing.

Owning Your Story
Content marketing refers to the practice of creating content for a targeted online audience to establish a relationship with them. Put simply, it’s a process for getting attention from the right people — not unlike public relations. However, because it’s created in-house for web distribution and is not subject to outside interpretation, self-published content affords greater control of message delivery. Basically, owned media in the form of digital content marketing lets you tell your own story. But to be effective, it has to be a story worth telling.

Below are several best practices to consider for your content marketing program.

1) Who are you talking to?
Content marketing is not meant to be about you, your brand, products, or services. It’s about your audience. Who are they? What do they care about? Start by doing research on your customer. Determine how your story can provide real value and how best to deliver it to them.

2) In order to sell something, don’t sell anything
Content marketing is inherently meant to be helpful over promotional. It is not synonymous with traditional marketing collateral that touts a company’s offerings or accolades. Instead, it uses how-to articles, whitepapers, case studies, e-books, videos, infographics, and webinars to provide answers to customers’ questions or solutions to their pain points. An important cornerstone of content marketing is that by helping other people succeed, you too will see a return on investment. Offer unique insight or helpful takeaways consistency throughout content marketing materials to establish trust with your audience. Offer credible information and share your expertise. This practice ultimately strengthens customer relationships and encourages loyalty.

3) Begin at the beginning
Before you even think about creating content, make sure you have identified your target audience, objectives, search-engine optimization (SEO) considerations, and brand voice. Each of these elements will inform your content marketing strategy. A content marketing strategy — which typically includes an editorial calendar, story matrix, content map, and style guide — should align with the overarching goals of your communications/PR strategy. Additionally, outline key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to measure success and/or reevaluation requirements.

4) Amplify your content
If you publish a blog post, share it from your Twitter account. If a piece of content is not performing well on one channel, explore others that may provide increased exposure to your desired audience. Leveraging the content you create across various web ecosystems provides multiple opportunities for your target audience to be exposed to your message. For example, it’s not uncommon (in fact, many argue it’s best practice) to share outstanding PR results on all your owned channels (brand social media accounts, website, blog, etc.).

5) Don’t forget SEO
Your customers are asking questions, and they use search engines to find answers. You want your information to be at the top of those search results. SEO ensures your content is easy to discover via search engines and helps drive the curious to your website. Common SEO best practices include diligent tagging (descriptions in the HTML code for how your content is presented on the web) and appropriate keyword propagation (identifying the terms people use for searching specific topics online and deftly using those keywords in your content marketing text).

A successful content marketing program will result in enhanced visibility and customer trust. When properly nurtured, the symbiotic relationship between earned and owned media builds brand reputation, boosts web traffic, and generates new business opportunities.

Learn more about content marketing here.

PR agencies could learn a lot from the Warriors, says a Celtics fan

Look, I don’t care about the Golden State Warriors.

My Boston sports blood runs strong and I’ll be a Celtics man ’til death, even though I live and work in the sunny Silicon Valley.

That said, my friendly neighborhood Warriors proved unstoppable once again this year. Led by a front office willing to invest in success, the Warriors have appeared in an amazing four straight NBA Finals, winning three, sweeping the last. I don’t care if LeBron goes for 70 against them, they just can’t lose.

They are a wonder to behold and there are some great business lessons a PR agency can learn from them.

1. Teamwork

Have you seen the Warriors pass the ball? They’re selfless.

Golden State’s league-leading 29.3 assists per game this season means everyone on the floor is engaged in supporting each other’s opportunities.

Most public relations agencies are bogged down in structure and definitely don’t want just anyone taking a big shot. By all means, have your Kevin Durant go for a jumper from the key when you need a bucket, but is it too much to ask for everyone on an account to have permission to speak with a client during the normal course of business? No, it’s not!

The Warriors show that when everyone’s getting touches, the team tends to be set up for an open look or slam dunk.

2. Helpfulness

Stepping up, even when it’s not your game, is essential in a run to glory.

It’s a backup player being thrust into the limelight and thriving in an unfamiliar role. It’s a coach moving a player to a new position, or asking for “less shots, more rebounds.” It’s the opposite of Malcolm Butler refusing to play slot for the Patriots in the last Super Bowl (I’m still salty, leave me alone).

For the Warriors, asking players to be helpful on the defensive end of the floor has translated to an efficiency rating ranked in the top third of teams in the league. Nobody on the team exemplifies this value more than Draymond Green, a defensive utility tool who has covered every single position on the floor. He’s an animal, I love it.

PR pros should be Greens, not Butlers. If an account lead justifiably asks someone on the account to inject some utility into their life, everyone else on the account should support that person in taking on the role adjustment.

The team is the thing. Always.

3. Curiosity

This is probably the first time that a basketball team has even been characterized as inquisitive. But the Warriors are as curious as George.

Consider Steph Curry’s constant stream of “imaginative” bank shots, runners, floaters, crossovers, and assists. Consider Steve Kerr’s openness to exploring, “What if I let the players’ coach for a game?” Consider Joe Lacob coming off a Game 7 loss to the Cavs in 2016 and thinking, “What if we took two of the best shooters in the game and then added a third,” then signing Kevin Durant.

PR agencies can foster a spirit of curiosity by encouraging employees to stretch and really dig into the industries of the accounts they cover with open minds. Hold discussions on why things are the way they are, and then work backward to see how a client might fit into that world in an unexpected way. Challenge the status quo to see if there’s actually a better way to deliver a company’s message. We’ve all heard the “adapt or die” mantra.

The Warriors show PR teams how to “explore and thrive.”

4. Flexibility

Flexibility in action for the Warriors is a low-key “next man up” attitude, where players like Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell were inserted into the lineup in the absence of injured mainstays and continue to help the team win.

The Warriors have had their share of injuries during this golden era, missing Curry, Durant, Andre Iguodala, and the departed Andrew Bogut for significant chunks of time, but there’s always been a player to fill in and keep the engine running. If you notice a crossover with the second Warriors principle, you’ve identified a Captain Obvious statement: Being flexible is helpful to everyone.

Similarly, PR agencies should understand that it’s a two-way street with clients, especially when it comes to activity volume, monthly retainers, or unexpected shifts in messaging needs or goals. Understand that no client fits perfectly into a cookie cutter mold, and maintain an open dialogue to ensure that your activities meet the real needs of your client as circumstances shift.

5. Passion

Passion for the game of basketball is the odor that gives “Roaracle” arena its funky smell. It’s embedded in the sweat of guys like Curry and Green, and literally makes the entire venue reek with its potency. There’s no way to fathom Steph practicing his circus shots as long as he does without acknowledging how much he obviously loves the game.

PR agencies should be passionate about the work they do, too. Passionate employees have that Roaracle stench about them, and clients can smell it.

6. Fun

Is any team having more fun than the Warriors on the floor? I know winning is fun, but take a look at the sheer joy on display when Steph does a shimmy or bernie. The Warrior commitment to fun explains why killer reputations survive things like the China Klay incident, why JaVale McGee is on their bench, and maybe even why Kevin Durant came on board.

Imagine work that feels like play. Wait, you’ve heard that one before? Me too, the Warriors embody it.

And PR agencies would do well to copy their winning playbook and encourage a culture of fun — where accomplishment is shared, camaraderie is cherished, and champions flourish.

*This article was originally published on Muckrack here.

Failing to Prepare = Preparing to Fail

In the tech industry as in all things, disaster is always within the realm of possibility: Be it earthquake or flood, product malfunction or sudden stock slide. Measured and timely communications during crises are often key to mitigating damage and sustaining company mission.

Having an established crisis communications plan “in case of emergency” is simply sensible. It requires establishing situational awareness within your organization and outlining how your company is going to solve problems quickly as a team. Who needs to make decisions? What is the process for response or outreach? What will determine resolution? A crisis communications plan is like an emergency preparedness kit — you may never have to use it, but you’ll be glad you have it if disaster strikes.

Here are three tips excerpted from my PR Daily article on how to stock your crisis communications emergency kit.

1. Assemble the team.

Effective crisis communications hinge on activating the right team members. Response team documentation should clearly identify decision makers and supply contact information, note approval hierarchies (and back-ups), and assign spokespeople (and back-ups).

A typical enterprise critical response team may be comprised of the entire c-suite (CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, CMO), as well as legal counsel, the HR lead, head of corporate communications and product and/or regional leaders, as appropriate.

Back-ups are key. Remember you are planning for a crisis; it’s fair to assume some team members will be unreachable.

2. Appraise the response.

Communications audits are great preparation for crafting crisis plans. Trust departmental instincts to identify experts and knowledge bases within key groups and seek their input. Be sure to poll outside partners about their concerns in the event of a crisis and exchange emergency contact information.

Response time in a crisis can be crucial, so developing pre-drafted and pre-approved communication materials will give you a head start when you need it.

3. Plan of action.

Your course of action when dealing with a crisis event will address an issue spectrum (a list of between 6 and 20 areas where the company is potentially vulnerable). When developing an issue spectrum, always begin with the most likely and most potentially damaging.

For example, if you are a cybersecurity firm operating in Miami, your top two crises on the spectrum might be getting hacked and getting hit by a hurricane. Even something as simple as a pre-written online statement, such as “We’re aware of a problem and will keep everyone posted as we gather more information,” should be ready to launch.

More comprehensive action plans will include detailed messaging, an FAQ, holding statements, a press release or media alert draft, a landing page, customer/partner communications templates, and sample social media posts for each issue on the spectrum.

A word of caution: Companies tend to focus heavily on obvious dangers and overlook important, but less conspicuous, potential crises. For example, commercial airlines have well-developed crisis playbooks for responding to a plane crash, but some carriers seemed ill-prepared in the face of customer service calamities.

A great way to ensure you aren’t neglecting to prepare for a solid issue spectrum is to analyze what has happened in the past to other companies — particularly competitors — and model how you’d respond in similar instances. While most organizations won’t need to engage in exercises as drastic as The New York Times’ recent crisis simulation, it is helpful for response teams to periodically engage in a little role-playing. You can also monitor media coverage of how other organizations deal with a particular crisis, note things that help or hurt, and practice running through some scenarios.

No two companies are completely alike, but everyone can learn from others’ experiences.